Thursday, March 24, 2005

What Do The People Want?

(cross posted at Liberals Against Terrorism)

David Fromkin has an Op-Ed piece in
today's Times that is worth a look. In it, he cautions against overheated optimism at the prospects for widespread democratic change in the Middle East in the near future, using the changes in Europe circa 1989 as a gauge for what factors are and aren't present.

He points out that the key difference between then and now is very much centered around the players. And they're sort of important. Key grafs:

A distinctive feature of the events of 1989 in Germany that is not found in the Middle East in 2005 is that those who manned the Berlin Wall were no longer willing to defend it. The Communist regimes had lost faith in communism and in themselves; they offered no resistance when the crowds pulled down the barricades.

That is not true of our adversaries, or even many of our friends, today in the Middle East. The jihadists believe in their cause with a fanatic ardor. Taliban raiders continue to harass the democratically elected regime in Afghanistan. It is not clear whether armed groups will respect the Palestinian truce. And even if Syria should withdraw from Lebanon, the dictatorial regime in Damascus is not dissolving itself, as Moscow's did after 1989; on the contrary, any withdrawal would be part of a larger plan to consolidate its hold on domestic power.

Nor are the forces on our side necessarily fighting for democracy, as they were in Berlin. The demonstrators in the streets in Beirut were not demanding democracy, but asking for independence - which is rather a different thing.

In turn, what the men in the presidential palaces offer is closer to a hesitant gesture than to a radical break with the past. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who has held power essentially unopposed since 1981, now proposes to amend his country's Constitution to allow opposition candidates in presidential elections. But the best guess is that anyone who runs will be a mere token candidate. And in Saudi Arabia, where voting was decreed and did occur in February - for the first time in its history - the election in question was merely for municipal councils, and the voter turnout was low. Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia are close allies of the United States, and it is difficult to resist the conclusion that their reforms are merely cosmetic, instituted to satisfy Americans and to appease foreign critics.
He also discusses the peculiar cross cutting skepticism at play. Whereas some in the Middle East are concerned that our motives are not pure in terms of spreading democracy, suspecting us of pursuing a neo-imperialist agenda, some in America fear our motives are too pure and that we may undercut our interests by naively unleashing democratic forces that are more hostile to our interests than the present day autocrats.

Thus paradoxically, a skeptical Arab might suspect that the United States pursues its own selfish goals in the Middle East, while at the same time a puzzled American might worry that it does not.
Go read the rest.

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